If there is one thing that disturbs me as a professional, it is apathy.

I believe that whatever work you do, you should endeavor to do it well. It should be relevant and have value to the person that the work is being produced for. I do not believe in working somewhere where you, as a person, are not valued, and where you do not feel a direct relationship between the work being performed and the benefit to others. I believe that if you work somewhere, it should be because you are willing to invest in the business, whatever that business may be.

Thusly, I fail to understand those who are working simply to work. I further fail to understand those who are working to work who actively sabotage efforts. It is not their opinion that matters. The work being performed has a particular purpose, traceable (one hopes) to a particular business need, well-defined or otherwise. Indeed, we would hope that the work is not being performed for no reason. The performance of that work, then, is not an invitation: “hello, we’re working towards something important, please feel free to sabotage us in any manner possible!”

Nor is it an edict: “we decided we must do this, so we must do this, even though we’re clearly failing. Failure is not an option!”

Failing is always an option. Indeed, sometimes failing is the only option that actually makes sense for a project – X number of dollars invested over Y number of hours for a low or nonexistent payoff would tend to suggest that perhaps a company should not invest much further in the endeavor unless gains are provable within a reasonably short amount of time. Small failures are not necessarily bad either, nor is failing often (in fact, failing small and often can easily be preferred over almost never failing, but failing spectacularly the one or two times you do).

The problem is, not all sabotage is necessarily evident immediately, nor is it particularly obvious. Sabotage might be achieved by willingly failing to actively consider all possibilities or all impacts of a particular unit of work. A single refusal to do so does not, in and of itself, necessarily fail a project; it is the accumulation.

Why, then, is apathy so bad? Quite simply: it hinders. It hinders the ability of the organization to work effectively toward its shared goals. It hinders you as the person who is apathetic; simply working for a paycheck, while not necessarily bad, does not contribute to the overall well-being of the organization or of the work you are assigned to. But perhaps more devastatingly, it hinders the people who are there to not only do the work, but to understand why the work is being done and who endeavor to do it well.

To put it more personally, you hinder me.

Now, I am not one to tell people to shut up and get out of my way; far from it. I believe that an investment in helping others become interested in the work again is well worth it. I do not believe that is easy – it most certainly is not. But if not a full restoration of interest, every organization can benefit from having all of its members at least agree that they will work for common purpose.

Because, really, if we are not all working towards a common purpose, what, exactly, do we intend to achieve?

  • Rick

    George Carlin, Scientists announced today that they have discovered a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest interest in it. He he.
    I like what you said about failure Mr. Ellis.